John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, spoke about the Anglican Covenant at the November 2010 General Synod, last week. This audio recordings are available here. Below is my transcription of the Bishop's speech which is about 1:17 into the recording:
In relation to the Anglican Covenant, I’m on record as saying in this synod that I entirely support the process, as long as it never ends. Let me explain what I mean. The Anglican Communion doesn’t need a Covenant because Anglicanism is a covenant. It is a way of Provinces listening, living distinctively apart from each other whilst remaining part of one another. That is a way of doing difference differently from the ways in which groups and individuals usually do difference. It is predicated on grace and goodwill, and if there is grace and goodwill then a covenant will be unnecessary and if there is no grace and goodwill then a covenant will be unavailing.
Listen to this quote from Hilary Mantel’s book ‘Wolf Hall’, putting words into the mouth of my distinguished predecessor, Cardinal Wolsey, “Wolsey always said that the making of a treaty is the treaty, it doesn’t matter what the terms are, just that there are terms. It’s the goodwill that matters, when that runs out the treaty is broken, whatever the terms may say’.
Members of Synod, the Church of England has a bit of a history of putting in place measures in response to a particular presented issue and then discovering that the proposed cure does not only have unintended consequences (and The Good Intentions Paving Company is still very much in business, I assure you), not only will there be unintended consequences, but the cure can actually make matters worse.
We all know that the process towards the drawing up of this Covenant was triggered by events in The Episcopal Church of a few years ago, notwithstanding the long preamble which was helpfully presented to us by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Those events were by no means trivial, but to elevate them to the status of game changers when it comes to how we deal with each other over time is… well… stepping over a very significant mark in the sand. And I truly doubt whether it will be conducive to long term stability.
The Covenant may of itself not be tyrannical, but there are those in the Communion whose treatment of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers has had at least a touch of the tyrannical about it. And if I ever come to the conclusion that a covenant of this kind would give them comfort then I would be bound to resist it.
Anglicanism has been described as a fellowship of civilised disagreement. Well I leave you to judge whether a two-tier Communion with first and second division members answers to that description of civilised disagreement. It frankly feels like we will be sending sincere and faithful Anglicans to stand in the corner until they have seen the error of their ways and can return to the ranks of the pure and spotless.
I am grateful to Mr Roy for referring to the story of the woman taken in adultery. Jesus, if you recall, first of all draw an extended circle of sinfulness to include those who considered themselves to be more righteous than she was, and then drew an extended circle of acceptance to count her in. You know the little rhyme,
“They drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, something to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took them in.”
We can draw ever tighter circles of sinfulness or we can draw ever wider circles of acceptance, so that all Provinces, and not just some, hear our Lord’s injunction, ‘Go and sin no more’, but also echo his reassurance, ‘Neither do I condemn you’. I love the Anglican Communion. I value our inter-diocesan links and I have learnt so much from visits to many dioceses. But I don’t love it so much that I would want it to be still a communion but no longer Anglican. That prize is not worth the price.
And so, Madam Chair, I simply leave you with the wise words of the American philosopher H. L. Mencken which you may well be familiar, ‘For every difficult and complex problem there is a solution which is simple, straight-forward and wrong’. As an answer to a difficult and complex problem, this Covenant is simple, straight-forward and I still believe probably wrong. There is too much religion in the world and not enough faith, and I think this Covenant seems to be more about factory farmed religion than free range faith.
As I want the conversation to continue, I cannot vote against the motion to go on considering it and its implications. But I do think the implications are very significant. And as I ride off into the wonderful sunsets of West Wales, I wish you all well and hope and pray that as this process continues you will enjoy discussing the idea of a covenant and hesitate long and hard before signing up to one.